After two busy days in Paris, we went on a two-day excursion to visit Juno Beach in Normandy and then to Verdun in the tranquil French countryside in the northeast. To cover all that ground in just a couple of days, we left Paris at 7AM on Monday morning so we could reach Caen and catch the one-hour bus to arrive at the Canadian Juno Beach Centre in the town of Courseulles-sur-Mer right when it opened at 10AM.
Juno Beach was an incredible experience. While I, or obviously Valentina, had no direct, family connection to Juno Beach and the Canadian heroics that occurred there in the early morning of 6 June 1944, D-Day, the visit still left an impact on us.
We first visited the Juno Beach Memorial Centre, a museum right on the beach, that not only highlighted Canada’s important role on D-Day, but walked you through the lead up to, the experience of, and the aftermath of World War II from a Canadian perspective. The museum was capped off with a very well-done, 20-minute documentary/re-enactment of the landings at Juno Beach and the Canadian liberation of Caen and the battles fought by Canadians that led to the closing of the Falaise Pocket on 21 August 1944.
After a couple hours in the museum, and flush with new insight into the events of Juno Beach, we made our way down the actual beach. We first passed well-preserved German bunkers, of the fabled Atlantic Wall portion of Fortress Europe, machinegun turrets and all, pointed out at the channel. From there, we went down a small sand dune to the beach proper. The beach itself was quite calm and picturesque, yet it was still rather surreal to stand on the same beach at the very spot where many of the Canadian troops landed in France, and the same spot which marked the beginning of many great sacrifices and so much destruction. After taking a few moments to absorb it all, we went about wandering the roughly eight-kilometre strip of beach that made up the Juno sector, all along the way we came across relics of the past: mostly bunkers, which had been blown apart by Canadian infantry on D-Day and sat half-buried by the beach; and memorials commemorating particular acts of valour, such as singlehandedly destroying one of said bunkers, and for those who were lost that day.
Without a doubt, Juno Beach is a place that every Canadian, anyone who knows a Canadian, or anyone who even knows that Canada is a country, should visit. It is a powerful reminder of the great sacrifices that many Canadians made for something greater than Canada itself.
From Juno Beach, we made our way back to Caen for the four-hour train journey to Verdun in the northeast.